Origins of the Heel

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Origins of the Heel

#1 Post by admin » Mon May 06, 2002 6:37 pm

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#2 Post by dw » Mon Jul 14, 2003 4:47 am

A question: I recently read The Archer's Tale by Bernard Cornwell (author of the acclaimed Share series). The Archer's Tale is set in the 14th century, I believe, and climaxes with the Battle of Crecy. At one point, Cornwell has one of his protagonists breaking down a door with the heel of his boot. Aside from the obvious discrepancy of heels, I was curious about boots themselves. I've never seen a heel-less boot. Never seen a boot from that era. Did people/soldiers even wear boots, per se, in the 14th century?

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#3 Post by tjburr » Mon Jul 14, 2003 7:46 pm

Boots have been around for a very long time. I have read that about 400 B.C the Greeks wore a short boot, though I do not know how high. As for England, I do not think boots were very tall until the Normans invaded (1066 et al), at least based on books I have read. Boots were worn almost everywhere by the 14th century, though some backwoods areas were more wrappings or bags rather than boots, and real boots may not have been for the poor. I read once that the Roman army determined that a 1/2 inch heel allowed a soldier to walk farther, but I have only seen this once (trying to remember exactly where), and I am not sure how accurate this is. Most books do not describe these boots as having a heel, though they are hobnailed. However northern europe and England had flat soles during the 14th century from all the samples I have viewed and reading I have performed.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#4 Post by peter Monahan » Mon Jul 14, 2003 7:50 pm

DW

From an eighteenth century context, two comments on Bernard Cornwall: 1) his historical accuracy is spotty at best 2) no "boots" as such as late as 1800 for soldiers who walked.

Cornwell has written about 15 novels set in 1800-1815 about "Sharpe", a rifleman in the Br. Army. Early ones are FULL of errors, really basic stuff like priming a musket after its loaded. (Think about it: how do you know how much prime to "hold back" when you dump the charge down the barrel). Etc, etc. - I won't bore you with his henious list of historical sins.

I defer to our medieval expert (Marc) on this, but I believe military boots came out of Hungary with "hussars" in the 15th-16th (Marc?) centuries. Infantry men wore shoes, low cut like modern Oxfords, with buckles or laces, until the 1850's when "booties" (ankle boots) came in. A medieval archer would, I believe, be wearing turnshoes - soft leather, no added sole or heel, so "booting" a door would produce at best a bruised heel and a loud noise!

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#5 Post by dw » Mon Jul 14, 2003 8:01 pm

Terry,

Thank you for your response. I think I read something about boots --flat soled, no heels-- pretty early on in Eastern Europe.

But from talking to several other historians, I am under the impression that there is no evidence whatever for heels of any kind...on any kind of footwear...in any culture...prior to the late 1500's.

I'd like to see evidence which contradicted that supposition, myownself. I had at one time thought that I had come across something citing red wooden heels on boots worn by invading Mongol tribesmen during the 13th century...but no amount of (admittedly cursory) research has been able to verify that. At best my dimly remembered source was probably some bit of fanciful speculation, the kind you see too often in high toned magazine articles written about boots and or bootmakers...and which I have been guilty of, as well.

Bottom line, though, you have go with the evidence..if it's not there, it's not there, and you can't pin your theories on phantoms.


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Re: Origins of the Heel

#6 Post by dw » Mon Jul 14, 2003 8:09 pm

Peter,

Thanks for the info. I really like Cornwell's Sharpe series. I guess it has something to do with my facination for full wellingtons.

The Sharpe series is set in the early 1800's amidst Wellsley's campaign against the French in Spain. At least, that's where I started...with Sharpe's Rifles...after he saves Wellington's life and is breveted to Ensign. It's great reading though and hard to put down. The Napoleonic Wars were a facinating time in history.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#7 Post by crispinian » Tue Jul 15, 2003 8:52 am

Greetings, my fellow Stiefel-kopfe. The image below is a detail of a woodcut by Flemish painter Pieter Coecke van Aelst (c.1502-1550), after a drawing he did on his visit to Constantinople in 1533. This is the earliest depiction I've come across of heeled footwear, and it's all the more striking for the elegance of the styles. Note that it's not only the calf-length boots that have heels but also the slippers at center (these are all male figures, by the way...no female footwear is clearly shown in this particular illustration and I'd be interested to see other of Coecke van Aelst's works from his 1533 trip.) Note also what look to be curved heel breasts on both pairs of boots. There's even a hint of a low heel on a child's shoe (not included in this scan). Perhaps someone with ready access to a good university library (hi Marc) would like to hunt for Turkish artwork of the early 16th century and before to see if any of the Turks' own works depict the local shoe fashions.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#8 Post by dw » Tue Jul 15, 2003 7:22 pm

Rusty,

Great!! That's the earliest I've seen or heard about! I thought someone told me 1576 or something like that as a pretty firm date for heels. but those are pretty clearly heels and if 1533 is a good date, it's interesting. I'd like to hear some of the other historians on the forum weigh in on this. Al?? Either Volken? ...June? Image

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#9 Post by das » Thu Jul 17, 2003 4:32 am

Here's what June Swann had briefly to say on this:

"Separate heels in Europe are 1590s, wedged platforms 1400+, overshoes with 2 stilts 15th c. Middle Eastern hook heels 1500+, and this
is what's Heft 6 6.13.02, either horseshoe rim or bound bottom edge - nothing like our covered nor stacked heels, and not an ancestor of them."

Note: 'Katalog Heft 6' ref. above, is the 1980 catalogue of footwear in the German Shoe and Leather Museum, Offenbach, where Rusty found the print he scanned the detail of. The same publication shows one shoe and one boot with these "hook-heels" in figs. 6.77.90, and 6.77.91. In Saskia Durian-Ress' book, 'Schuhe' [1992], pages 42-44, are 5 more "Turkish" examples of "hook-heels" including low boots, plus a slipper and an overshoe, all allegedly dated to the 17th c. [1600s], which have the iron-bound "heel" that June mentions. The photos are pretty clear--this is barely what we'd call a heel, except that it's distinct and higer than the soles.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#10 Post by dw » Thu Jul 17, 2003 6:15 am

Al,

So...getting back to Cornwell's book--meritorious or not--what would June say about boots on any of the combatants at Crecy? French and English infantry, English bowmen, or cavalry (mostly, if not exclusively, landed aristocracy) on either side?

By boots, let's say "over the ankle and substantial enough to be differentiated from a leather sock." With a firm to hard sole that might take "kicking in a door."

Is such footwear common or even in use in the 14th century? Are there photos or historical illustrations of such early boots in Heft?

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#11 Post by M. Volken » Thu Jul 17, 2003 2:34 pm

DW, Al, et al,
Mr. Cornwell isn't the only author to make such a huge mistake about footwear, Ellis Peters also has a wicked man traced by the shape of his boot heel in the mud under a window, an absolute anachronism for the middle ages.

It is good to give a definition of what you mean by boot- if you are not including heels then, yes, thick though supple leather that reaches to the knee or above, but nix on the hard enough sole to kick down a medieval door, even modern army boots with James Bond gadgets would have a hard time to make an impression on 3 inches of hewn hardwood with real smithed iron fittings and hinges. In the first quarter to half of the 13th century there are a number of northern european finds that contain 'boots, that is with a vamp and a leg part, with the leg part going all the way down to the sole. this 'wellington' type pattern is seen again in the end of the 15th century to beginning of 16th century but made out of very soft buckskin type leathers.
The hook heels are very foriegn to european shoemaking, the construction is closer to a hoof than a heel. the curved shell of hard leather is sewn turnshoe fashion into the sole upper seam and is completely hollow underneath and above. European heels developped from repair patches and were not originally part of the sole upper construction.
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Re: Origins of the Heel

#12 Post by dw » Fri Jul 18, 2003 5:47 am

Marquita, et al,

Thanks for the info. I hadn't really considered the doors, but that would, indeed, be pretty daunting. I bet Cornwell was visualizing the kind of pre-fab doors that we have all around us now when he wrote that passage. Or maybe he just had some snippet of movie action unreeling in his mind and figured it would work.

With regard to hook heels...regardless of how they were made or how heels in western Europe evolved, my sense is that once an idea is hatched it will emerge in many different ways.

I mean, people form western Europe were trqaveling in the East. Some wealthy Italian merchant living in Constantinople sees shoes with hooked heels. Intrigued, he buys a pair. Wears them for a while and when he returns to Italy, he takes them with him. Months, maybe years later, his local shoemaker is called upon to repair the hooked boots. And the idea for elevating the back of the shoe is passed on. Western shoemakers didn't grasp how to make the hooked construction so they emulated the effect with pieces of sole. Maybe it's an early form of "reverse engineering."

If this little scenario has any credibility (even as a "maybe that's the way it hapened" ) then heels--defined as an elevation of the rear of the foot--may have existed in the East substantially prior to 1533.

In one sense,I don't think that the method of construction is as important as the effect, both on the foot and on the esthetic functionality of the footwear. I don't know if you are familiar with the concept of "memes." But memes are similar to genes in that they propagate. But memes consist of ideas, concepts, attitudes. I've always had this sneaking suspicion that the heel meme existed long before the heel itself. What do you think?

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#13 Post by das » Fri Jul 18, 2003 6:09 am

M.,

Great posting. I was hoping you'd weigh in on this.

Would it be fair game to scan a Medieval boot or two out of Olaf's big book? Or should we just refer DW and the others interested to 'Stepping Through Time' [ISBN 90-801044-6-9]? There're plenty of boots to see there. If you can navigate Bata Shoe Museum's web-site, there's a nice mid-calf-height Medieval boot pix posted there.

Good description of "hook heels" too. I think if anybody handled one or saw one up close, they'd give up on trying to say these were "heels" in the European sense. 'Schuhe', mentioned yesterday, has good shots of the bottoms and these weird "hook heels".

======================
"European heels developed from repair patches and were not originally part of the sole upper construction."
======================

You say this in such a matter-of-fact way, I hope you might elaborate a bit further on your theory. While it's easy to see how thick leather repair-patches added under the heel-end of a turnshoe sole would create a wedge-like thickening [proto-heel] at the back; and I could see some practical people might have had their new shoes beefed-up with this "wedge" bit to increase durability, laboring, traveling, etc. are we really now willing to hang the whole historical origin of European heels on this source? Where/how do platform-soles, eventually with hollowed arches ["shoes with arches", etc.] fit into this story? Repair-patches as the origins of the "spring" [wedge] heel I can see. Perhaps even as the precursor to the lower stacked leather heels; but what about the earliest high covered wood heels of fashionable shoes, which seem to be more related [structurally] to pattens and over-shoes with covered-platforms? Must there be one single origin for all European heel types, or maybe several, e.g., patten for covered high wood heels, and these repair patches for "spring" [wedge] and lower stacked leather heels? Thoughts?

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#14 Post by das » Fri Jul 18, 2003 6:22 am

DW,

I'm not the guy to ask about illustrations and examples of Medieval boots. There're a few pix posted on Bata's website I recall, including one taller boot. The books 'Schuhe', 'Stepping Through Time', and others show what I think you need to see.

I think you're dreaming about Medieval boots kicking down any doors too. The primary construction then was turnshoe, and the weight, thickness, stoutness, etc., of the sole and upper was somewhat limited by the fact that the boot still had to be made inside-out, then turned rightside-out. They could not be too thick to turn IOW. You need right-side-out welted constructions before you can make heavy boots, a la "jack-booted storm troopers", etc.

It's probably a bad analogy [M. will call me on it], but imagine a leather shoe or boot no thicker/stiffer on the bottom than an Italian loafer without a heel. No door-kicking tool there I'm afraid.

'Schuhe' is a better bet for Medieval boot photos than 'Heft 6', and 'Stepping Through Time' better still, but it's all drawings.

I'll pass all this along to June, just in case she's not lurking.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#15 Post by das » Fri Jul 18, 2003 8:53 am

Proxy Posting:

June Swann adds:

========================
"...read my 'History of Footwear in Norway, Sweden, and Finland' [2001; ISBN 91-7402-323-3] p.96-7: There are 2 basic types of heels, 1. those derived from platform soles that got higher at the back, then hollowed under waist = covered heel. 2 those derived from repair patches = stacked/built heel (or 'Polony' in R. Holme).

What else would you call the shoe upper covering the heel before heel as extension underneath was invented, and before term, 'quarters', but HEEL."
===========================

From the last part, it's possible to have "shoe heels" [the quarters] long before we have "heels" as we think of them, and before we have "quarters".

M. Volken

Re: Origins of the Heel

#16 Post by M. Volken » Fri Jul 18, 2003 11:41 am

Al, DW

"European heels developed from repair patches and were not originally part of the sole upper construction."
======================

Well, that quote does sound pretty matter of fact, and is based on what Olaf has seen, little patches that were sewn on the toe and heel of the shoe which by the end of the 1500's had a strange moment when the patches became integral, that is sewn in between the welt and the tread sole, and then a heel patch that was sewn to the treadsole, and the toe patch was abandoned. the first 'heels' are only a lift or two, nothing to write home about.

As for the turkish connexion, The contact between the east and europe starts of course with the crusades, though it doesn't seem to have had much influence on footwear, or at least none that I have seen. There is the interesting find from Mystra Greece, the town had good trading relations with europe, but was also part of the byzantine empire, but in 1453 the town was overun by the turks. the finds from a woman's tomb included some fragments of shoes, plus many of the other tombs contained iron heel guards, some as thick as a half inch. The date for the tomb is based on the TPQ of the turkish invasion and the textiles, so between 1420-1440. At this time in europe there isn't even a hint of a raised heel.
My personal feeling about the development of the heel in europe is that it isn't at all related to some outside foriegn source but is quite understandable in the context of the Baroque period.

M.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#17 Post by dw » Fri Jul 18, 2003 12:02 pm

Marquita,

Please don't think I'm quibbling or being contrary here...I'm really just curious about the origins of the heel. You know I'm not an historian, but as I see it the current theory is lacking one crucial element...a reason.

Why did heels develop? Surely not because some shoemaker had some extra scraps of repair material he needed to dispose of? I'd like to think there was a functional purpose...such as might exist if the heel was associated with horsemen. People do things for foolish reasons but seldom for no
reason at all.

Frankly, I don't see a functional difference between hook heels and western European heels. Unless the origins of the European heel has a basis in some functionality beyond "elevating one's social status," then it's just two different approaches to the same problem--an oriental saw is still a saw, despite the different lineage and usage. Isn't it?

Where am I going wrong?

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#18 Post by das » Fri Jul 18, 2003 12:10 pm

M.,

Thanks for expanding on that.

======================
"and the toe patch was abandoned. the first 'heels' are only a lift or two, nothing to write home about."
======================

Just to expand this a tad further... are these patch bits skived on the front edge, or is there a defined heel-breast? If one were looking at these shoes from the side, would they appear like a slight "wedge"? Total maximum height might be roughly ____? In other words, to a modern person's eye, would they be seeing a shoe with a "heel"--even a low wedge one--or just a sole with a slightly thicker back-end?

Not sure that it's the very first ref., but Randal Holme [1688] is the "first" I recall to even allude to "foreign" shaped heels ["Polony"] in Europe that might have some Eastern origin, and it's Polish, not Turkish. One might think that if our heels began in Turkey, c.1500 or earlier, there'd be refs. in English literature to "Turkey heels". There's mention of "Turkey red" [color], and other "Turkish" things, but not heels. There're even examples of fancy dress in imitation of Turks in Europe, but they tend to ape the "babouche" [slipper-shoe with long curled-up toes] in bright colored leather sans a heel. Again, you'd think if Turks' shoes characteristically had heels, when the Euros dressed up like Turks, they'd put on a heel too.

==========================
"...so between 1420-1440. At this time in Europe there isn't even a hint of a raised heel."
==========================

Not even these repair heel-patchy thingies you speak of above?

M. Volken

Re: Origins of the Heel

#19 Post by M. Volken » Fri Jul 18, 2003 2:25 pm

DW, Al,
You seem very interested in heels!
I don't think you are quibbling, you just have an inquisitive mind. You probably have the answer for the appearance of heels already, but it would seem just too obvious and probably not glamorous enough. The idea of the connexion with horse riding is a bit too romantic for me, especially since stirrups have been around since the 7-8th century, at least in europe, and no one bothered to invent heels during the subsequent centuries. What do heels do? wear off. Why? abrasive walking surface, during the 16th century paving became very widespread as cities grew and ideas about what walking through town ought to be. True most large cities in the middle ages had some sort of paving in wood or stone, but the larger part of the walking surface was earthen. People were toe walkers, the most common wear hole on a med. sole is right under the metatarsal heads. With the advent of the welted sole construction people changed slowly their walking method from toe to heel walkers, so the heel started to wear out faster, add the increase of pavements and you get a shoe that runs down in the heel right quick. On page 277 of Stepping through Time is a mule with a single lift, it dates from the first half of the 16th century, a mule is a shoe that is notorious for run down heels, so the heel lift is a practical protection. Notice on the same page, with the other cow mouth type shoes, that none of them have heel lifts. There is a photo of a horn type cow mouth in the DLM book ( sorry I don't have the exact ref. at hand) which has one of the first wedgie type heels.
Al, if you look on page 283 of STT, all your questions will be answered. The first integral toe and heel lifts were skived, often quite nicely.
It seems to me that most of the repaired cow mouth shoes I have seen have both patches, front and back, so still keeping with the medieval idea of patching the sole and not making a heel. Before that it is strictly front and back heel patches, seems to be a 'set' often of the same leather. In the late 14th century there does appear the strange 'sieve sole patches' ( this is not a technical term, just what I call them)these are quite thick, sometimes four to six layers of leather, but their shape is the same as the front and heel patch, I suppose if you found only the heel one you could be lead to believe that 'heels' existed, but they were always paired with a front one of the same height. And no, these things have nothing in common with stacked heels except they are layers of leather. The sieve soles are made of cobblered leather and serpentine stiched together then tunnel stiched to the turnshoe sole and rand. They are quite similar in idea to those Nike shoes that have the arch empty so that the print of the shoe shows a fat almond shape, empty space, and the heel as a sort of oval.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#20 Post by gcunning » Fri Jul 18, 2003 6:24 pm

I have just scanned messages due to being gone so much, so I may be asking a question that has been posed, but could heels be for intimidition, insecurity(being short), status????

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#21 Post by das » Sat Jul 19, 2003 5:23 am

M., DW, Gary,

M.--Thank you for spelling all that out.

DW & Gary--As frustrating as it is, history only does a fair job of telling us "who", "what", and "when", but as basically a forensic science it does a poor job on the "why" questions. That's why the "whys" in history are frequently cast as very provisional theories--"the current evidence suggests that perhaps....", etc. With shoes we're really into the obscure thankfully, so there is little if any political agenda, but look at historical events like the sinking of the USS Maine. People with "agendas" often latch onto historical events and co-opt them for political purposes, which makes getting at the [often boring] truth doubly difficult.

In fashion-history there are many "drivers" behind why certain styles come and go; first as an outrage, then as all the rage, and finally as either a passing fad, or a "timeless classic". Until quite recently in the scheme of things culturally, people primarily dressed "up", that was the pattern, they aspired to emulating their social betters. During the periods under discussion in connection with heels, fashion usually ran from the top of society down. Styles were set by court dress--what the king and nobles wore, and what anyone wore if they went to "court" [not the legal kind--the kingly kind]. The most dramatic changes in European dress coincide with changing monarchs and their idiosyncrasies of court dress. I'll bet somewhere, some monarch popularized heels, and the die was cast.

While I think M.'s onto something with these practical reasons--pavements, etc.--I think we need to add, too, that heels had to be popularized by the nobility, creating a market demand, hence the shoemakers went into high gear producing such things [for them], and of course the rising middle-class jumped on the band wagon buying cheaper knock-offs, and on down the ranks of society. Even if "heels", or these "proto-heels" M.'s on about, were born at the lower ranks of European society--the urban society who had to walk on the pavements was socially above the peasants out on the farms [yes/no?]--they probably still had to become "hot" at the top ranks, before they trickled down to all and sundry.

No matter what their origins, probably the "reason" the man in the streets in London, Paris, or Berlin first adopted heeled shoes c.1590-1600 was because they had become the accepted fashion, were mass-produced in enough quantity to be available, and/or second-hand refurbished ones had turned up in the market stalls. The thing to guard against is this romantic notion of going to the shoemaker to have everything custom-made. Throughout most of history, most people in European cities bought most of their shoes ready-made--mass-produced. Even the Roman shoemakers complained to the government about the cheap imports flooding in from Greece, back BC.

So, the wide-spread adoption of shoes with heels in Europe must coincide with the wide-spread mass-production of those shoes, and that kind of mass-production follows a lucrative market demand, not to mention the technical know-how to make them. Who or what group might create that kind of market demand?, etc. Another variable here, the "revolution" in shoemaking techniques that was taking place--the shift from turnshoes with their relative limited durability, and the limitation of thickness to enable them to be turned, to the stouter welted, "rightside-out" constructions. Heel-building technique c.1600-40ish was total chaos. Nobody "knew" the best way to build them or attach them just yet. The Elizabethan "slack heels": covered wood heel, but the quarters aren't attached to the bottoms, and other weird examples seem to suggest to me that the demand for heels had out-stripped the average shoemaker's ability to make such creations. The early high "spring heels": stacked leather wedges inserted under the continuous outsole--a bear to sew, and a misery to repair--finally gave way to the stacked leather heel we know, placed above the outsole, with more pegging than stitching eventually. From 1650 on, however, things found their own level, and the heels we know: covered wood "Louis"-type, stacked leather, and low wedge "spring-heels" settle nicely into orthodoxy.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#22 Post by dw » Sat Jul 19, 2003 6:31 am

M.

Very cogent. I had not heard the connection between pavement and heels made before. But that begs another question, if you will permit it...

Try as I may (and I have tried since I was about ten, and heard that American Indians toe walked) I cannot toe walk without feeling off balance and looking, I'm sure, hysterically ridiculous. I can't imagine a whole society of people tippy-toeing around like midnight skulkers in a bad detective story. It doesn't seem a very efficient way to walk.

But accepting the evidence (wear on medieval footwear), why would people just suddenly stop toe walking and start heel walking? Is there something about pavement that causes that kind of physio/psychological transformation? And did people in the middle ages never walk on hard surfaces? Rock...stone ramparts, etc.?

Thanks for taking the time...

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#23 Post by dw » Sat Jul 19, 2003 7:06 am

Al, et al,

I see what you are getting at. I think I more or less understood all that before this discussion began but the details are always interesting and with someone like me, it is always good to refresh one's memory and one's vision.

But did I miss something? I still don't see a reason for heels to evolve. I not being obstinate here, honest. I just can't get my mind around the motives that impelled heels to the forefront. Sure, I can accept that heels raised one above the peasants in the fields. A mark of social elevation. If that's the reason heels evolved, and not for some more utilitarian or functional reason, so be it. But then, at that point, I come back to the hook heels--if they were borne of the same impulse, then they have to be "heels" in every sense that counts. And they might be precursors of modern heels.

You say...
"Nobody "knew" the best way to build them or attach them just yet."
I see that...but doesn't it apply to hook heels, as well? And doesn't it also apply if we assume that hook heels had some small, buried-in-the-subconscious influence on HC ("historically correct"--Western European) heels?

Although it may appear that I have some vested interest in pushing the date for heels back into the past, it's simply not true. I got interested in heels and their origins because I once thought that the evolution of heels was associated with horsemen. I got that notion, as I've stated before, because of an article I read connecting heels with 13th century Tatar horsemen (and there *is* that 13th century tripod in Heft). I still like the notion but recognize it as wishful thinking. So, I am not particularly attached to the idea nor disappointed that the bulk of the evidence doesn't support it. It just planted a seed and I've always been kind of fascinated by it.

The problem with HC heel theory, as I see it, is that it is as you say...a theory. And it's a *theory* because there seems to be too many gaps in the record, too many disparities from modern sensibility. Not to discredit it, but simply to take it with a grain of salt. [ Don't you just love amateurs? Image ]

Of course, the fact that it is a theory and because it comes up so short on "why's" gives rise to folks like Bernard Cornwell who, for all his faults, does a much better job of connecting us to the past than facts and factually based theories can ever do.

Thanks for indulging me...

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#24 Post by das » Sun Jul 20, 2003 6:20 am

DW,

I know what you're driving at with the "reasons", and it's tempting to say the Turks had something like a heel by 1533 [Rusty's dating on that print]--the "hook-heels"--so ours came from theirs. Interestingly, the earliest European heels I've seen look nothing like the "hook-heel", so I feel it would be hard to show examples of a connection. But then I wonder about other fashion aberrations, e.g. the flu epidemic of 1918, which spelled the beginning of the end for women's high laced boots. It was thought that the low hem-lines of skirts were fanning up street dust and fouling the air with flu germs, so women's hem-lines went up. High-laced boots dropped down to become the more ankle-flattering shoe, etc., because now ankles were more visible.

I'll defer to M., and June on this, but at least one can apparently play historian's "connect the dots" better with evidence that the theory flows: stacked leather heels evolved from Medieval repair/reinforcement "heel patches", and covered wooden heels evolved from platform soles, eventually "with arches". These "patches" and platforms are already widely seen in Europe before 1533, and in the case of the platforms at least, can be seen changing shape over time, slowly, into the covered heel. Then it becomes a case of rejecting these pre-existing local origins in favor of intrusive Turkish "hook-heels" *after* the evolution of the "proto-heel" has already begun locally in Europe. Make sense?

As to practical reasons, I think we've already dismissed the "need" for heels when riding in stirrups, which was done to deadly effect for centuries before heels were dreamt of. So we're left with reinforcing soles at the back for walking on pavement [environmental changes], and the age-old one for status or whatever [looking taller]. Any other possibilities?

Is there any "practical" reason behind pointed toe shapes? These have come and gone, and come and gone, but surely have no anatomical "reason"?

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#25 Post by marc » Sun Jul 20, 2003 12:04 pm

Just a couple of things.

Al, "Paloney" heels are mentioned in some Elizabethan sources (for example as found in "Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlocked" compiled by Janet Arnold- the same work also shows examples of solid soles carved to look separate, which keep being thrown at me every time the "no separate heels before 1590" thing comes up).

I believe there were examples of "hooked heels" found at Novgorod in Russia, which if I read the text correctly, seeemed to have been of a fairly early date (late 1400s, I believe). Of course, I'm probably getting it wrong, since I seem to recall that they were the outline of the heel and the sole, and were of iron. OTOH, they didn't look like they were all that comfy to walk in either.

I haven't found an explanation for those either. I'm not sure we'll ever know "why"; but I do think that whent he style finally did show up, the shoemakers wound up using technology they knew would work, and would cost them less to make (for example, hand stitched layers, such as with "spring heels" are a pain to do - especially when you start going to any real height). So the pegging technology that was being use do some repairs was adopted.

or such is my thought.

marc

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